fiction suspense has grown in popularity in past decade. In fact,
Christian thriller writers like Ted Dekker, Frank Peretti, and James
Scott Bell have crossed over onto mainstream bookstore shelves. Women
suspense writers like Dee Henderson, Brandilyn Collins, and Terri
Blackstock have introduced more women readers to this genre. In honor
of Women’s History month, CFOM chats with
author Sibella Giorello about why suspense romances the Christian
reader, and her latest novel, The Mountains Bow Down,
part four in the award-winning mystery series of Raleigh Harmon,
forensic geologist and FBI Special Agent.
How have you kept
Raleigh’s story fresh?
If readers find Raleigh fresh,
it’s because she still surprises the
author. Finishing the fifth book in the series, I still step away from
the computer wondering, “Wow, Raleigh, that’s how you’re going to
handle the situation?”
What is it about her
that readers love?
Maybe it comes down to Raleigh
being an authentic Christian—even for
nonbelievers, and a large percentage of my readers are nonbelievers.
Raleigh is nowhere close to perfect. In fact, she messes up royally.
But she’s aware of her wretchedness. More important, she knows God is
good, ready to redeem her mistakes for His glory.
Readers seem to take a certain
hopefulness from her. Maybe she holds up a mirror: We’re bad; He’s
Why do you like writing
I write what I like to read. And
what appeals to me about mysteries
and suspense is how we read on different levels. We have the literary
story—characters, language, setting, etc.—but also the puzzle that
needs to be solved. As readers, it’s almost participatory, actively
moving with the characters toward the conclusion.
There’s another element as a
writer. I was one of those annoying
kids who grew up saying, “Well, that doesn’t seem fair.” Raleigh lets
me satisfy that innate need to see good triumph over evil, especially
in a fallen world.
How did you decide on
the titles for this series?
The first title, The
Stones Cry Out, came naturally. Raleigh
Harmon is a forensic geologist and a believer. So that Scripture (Luke
19:40) seemed like an ideal reference point.
But the rhythm of those words
appealed to me, and the second title, The Rivers Run Dry,
slipped into my mind during a Seattle drought. The third title took
some work. It appeared late, while reading about a medieval monk who
believed our human condition was characterized by God being out of
sight—we “saw” God only for split seconds, “when the clouds rolled
This most recent title, The
Mountains Bow Down, was inspired by Habakkuk, and of course
Alaska. But next year’s release was named by my youngest son. He came
up with The Stars Shine Bright So naming the books
is now a family affair.
Is there a main story
mythology that travels across the series?
Interesting question, Dee.
Raleigh has started reminding me of Ruth
sticking to Naomi when the world said she was free to pursue her own
needs. Although I didn’t have that image when I started writing the
series, some subconscious aspect must have crept forward. Raleigh and
Ruth. Naomi and Nadine. How did I choose characters with the same first
initials, who have such a similar relationship? It was God speaking
Alaska is a great challenge for
writers. The landscape is
spectacular and the people are a different breed. Some writers have
nailed it—Robert Service and Jack London being perhaps the best
examples—but others have written about the place as clinically as
Darwin described birds in the Galapagos.
As a fourth generation Alaskan,
I wanted to write about some things
that make the state special. It’s very close to my heart. But when I
finished the book, I still had plenty more to write about. That tells
me Raleigh might return at some point.
Jack’s not the one-dimensional
dude he presents. Like Raleigh, he
wears a public mask that hides personal pain. With her, he recognizes
those secret parts of himself. He’s attracted to Raleigh not to save
her—which is the romantic cliché—but to save himself. That’s an
And he’s funny. Very funny.
What have you learned
about writing suspense you wished you knew sooner?
back, I turned in my first book before it was ready. At the time, as a
novice, I didn’t understand the difference between being sick of a
manuscript and finishing a book. Now I know: When I’m sick of reading a
manuscript, God is just getting started.
By God’s grace alone, that book
went on to win a Christy Award. The
honor was tremendous, no doubt about it. But each time I thought of the
book, I felt profound shame because it wasn’t written with my whole
heart, “as unto the Lord.” Fortunately I got the rights back. It was
tempting to upload the book to Kindle as-is. The sneaky sin-thought
was: “Hey, it won a Christy, it must be okay . . . .” Instead, I worked
over the chapters, hoping to be that “workman that needeth not to be
ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15).
My advice to unpublished authors
is don’t jump the gun. Make sure
your book is the absolute best it can be. You won’t regret it.
How do you make plot
not seem coincidental but organic?
In real life, most of us have a
BS radar, which stands for Baloney
Supreme. We can sense when something is cheap or false. As writers,
it’s important we listen to that when we tell our stories.
Writers are human—very human. We
get tired. Sick of the story. Doubt
ourselves. And there’s always the temptation to force a plot point, or
to tie a neat bow around the ending, or to skip some hard work.
There are some constructive ways
to avoid that temptation, and they
don’t involve diving face-first into the Ben & Jerry’s
sometimes that works).
For instance, if you’ve painted
yourself into a literary corner,
tiptoe over to the character and ask, “What would you do next?” Then
listen. Even better, as agent Donald Maass advises, ask the character,
“What would you never do?” Then let them do it.
Maybe that change-up will work
in the story, maybe not. But it will certainly pull your narrative out
of the corner.
By the way, I highly recommend
Maass’s workbook, Writing the Breakout Novel.
What’s the spiritual
takeaway of The Mountains Bow Down?
Well, here I’m reluctant to
speak. One of the reasons I got my
college degree in geology was to avoid English professors telling me
what the great novels were “really about.”
That same caution has carried
over as an author and a Christian. We
work out our salvation with fear and trembling, and I think we need to
let novels speak to each of us personally. Jesus rarely told his
listeners what to take away from His parables. And since I follow Him,
I’ll do the same.
To learn more about Sibello
Giorello, visit www.sibellagiorello.com.
Spring Book PR Tip:
Now’s the time to plan hosting a spring
writer’s workshop. Make it free and through your local library or book
store. It’s great PR.